As the church in Corinth continues to struggle with the rampant sexual immorality, Paul tries to rein in the congregation by taking them back to the very purpose of creation. After dealing with cases of unfaithfulness among the men and women in the church, Paul tries to take a step back and addresses the need for discipline in hopes of bringing back order to the worship in the church.
On Covering the Head in Worship
I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.1 Corinthians 11:3
God created mankind in His likeness and a husband and a wife together form one body. Paul is not breaking from the social order but is reminding everyone that just like God has authority over us, a husband has authority over their wife. There is an old testament law that even allows the husband to free his wife from any commitments made to God.
“If a woman living with her husband makes a vow or obligates herself by a pledge under oath and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her and does not forbid her, then all her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges that came from her lips will stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the LORD will release her.Numbers 30:10-12
The laws were made, keeping the traditions and customs in mind. Men had supreme authority over their wives and thus were given the responsibility to negate any hastily made vows by her. But that is not the case today as both men and women have been given the same responsibilities by our society. Why then do we limit the women of our church to be subjugated by the men?
Paul even brings in the relationship between God and Christ saying that God is the head of Christ. Does he mean that Christ is subjugated by God? surely not. But The Father and the Son along with the Spirit form one body, just like a husband and a wife.
Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.1 Corinthians 11:4
Head coverings were a status symbol among the elite men of those days. Such reminders of social strata while preaching, praying, prophesying is a mockery of the sacrifice that Christ made for all of us. We are called to unify the body of Christ rather than create divisions but we like to hold on to our race, caste and social standing.
By bringing in such subtle demarcations that separate us from our brethren, we are giving no value to the blood of Christ that unites us and are holding on to our past. People who want to hold on to their social standings should not be allowed to preach the message of Christ, which is the message of inclusion.
Even today, people have the habit of removing their hats when praying or preaching. More than any ritual, it is a symbolic gesture of honouring the presence of God among us. If we remove our hats while in the presence of our earthly superiors, then why don’t we show the same respect to God who has the ultimate authority over us. On the other hand, if our culture does not have such habits, why do we blindly mimic the ancient rituals while worshipping our God.
But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.1 Corinthians 11:5-6
For the women of those days, their hair was a symbol of their sexual appeal while shaving off a women’s head was the source of their ultimate humiliation. Anything that separates or distracts us from worshipping God in our churches should be dealt with seriously and that is why Paul sternly addresses this issue.
Head coverings of those days, were like the wedding rings that signalled the unavailability of the woman to potential suitors. By defying this social norm within the church premises, the women were signalling their interest in courtship. Paul associated such trends with his church getting drowned in unfaithful marriages and thus tries to address it head-on.
Again, in our modern churches, the hair on a woman’s head may be a distraction or may not have any effect at all. We should take into consideration our own society’s social norms and follow them in our church rather than asking our women to carry an extra accessory before entering our churches.
Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.1 Corinthians 11:11
Paul makes sure that we all know that in the eyes of the Lord, man and woman constitute one body. A husband is nothing without his wife nor is the wife anything without the husband. But the strict laws that Paul is trying to enforce on men and women separately, is in efforts to try and curtail the problem of adultery by adopting the social norms of first-century Greece.
Judge for yourselves…1 Corinthians 11:13
Even though Paul is rhetorically speaking, we should still judge according to our present scenarios. In some cultures, men and women have different standings in society and the same must be followed in their church to avoid unnecessary conflicts with the locals. While in other cultures, inequality between genders while worshipping God will not be tolerated.
Our goal is to unite as one to worship our Maker rather than bicker about the way we need to worship God. Let the culture of the present times dictate what you should wear or not wear while we submit our hearts to God in complete surrender without any ulterior motives behind our worships.